Association of State Wetland Managers - Protecting the Nation's Wetlands.

For Peats Sake LogoBy Marla J. Stelk, Policy Analyst, ASWM

I just got back from a trip to Washington D.C. where I participated in a two-day “Communications Boot Camp” hosted by the American Institute of Biological Sciences (AIBS). The topic of how to effectively communicate science is certainly not a new topic; the contentious debate surrounding climate change (among other topics) over the past 20 years has resulted in many new communication communicationscampstrategies and interesting research into human behavior and psychology. This workshop, however, was specifically targeted at scientists and the room had a diverse group of them represented at the table – folks involved in everything from mitochondrial research to NASA space exploration.

The first day was focused primarily on working with the media and day two was focused mostly on influencing policy makers. Everyone was required to actively participate in role-playing exercises, and although some of us tended to cringe when we were asked to engage in them, they always resulted in stronger group dynamics and a very effective learning process. Nothing can quite replace practicing your performance among peers. The small group size of thirty participants made it manageable and created an environment where a small group of strangers quickly became colleagues and friends.

One of the biggest bits of advice that was consistently reinforced during the boot camp was the need to know your audience. This is not new advice but critical to constantly remind folks. In many ways, it parallels what we at the Association of State Wetland Managers (ASWM) have learned from our two+ year project looking at why wetland restorations fail – the need to really know your site. Context is everything. Are you trying to communicate effectivecommunicationwith people involved in the media…policy-makers…business owners…lawyers…parents…school children…the list can obviously go on and on. Knowing your audience is critical to developing your communication strategy and materials. Who are they and what are their interests? What is their background, their educational level, their values? Why should they care? Focus more on “why” than “how.” Do your homework upfront, tailor your message and you’ll be far more successful.

The second biggest bit of advice, that was actually my biggest take-away, was that research has shown that people can only retain three messages at a time. The presenters provided all of us with a “communications triangle” (see image below). Start with your primary message – your big idea – but keep it to 140 characters or less. This can be very challenging — and as someone who has resisted the whole Twitter form of communication I have to admit it was a hard pill to swallow. But it is the reality of the world we live in – anything longer and you risk losing people’s attention precipitously. After you develop your main message, identify three key talking points to support it and transition phrasing to tie them all together and to your primary message. If you can focus on the big picture and the broader implications of your work, you’ll be far more successful in communicating why it is important and why people should care.


And finally, don’t be afraid to be excited about your work. Your excitement and passion will be contagious. Just because it may be highly technical and complex doesn’t mean that people won’t be interested in it. Express your excitement and joy of discovery and you’ll get other people excited about your work as well. There was a lot more great information and advice that was shared, but you’ll have to sign-up for their next boot camp to really absorb it all. For those of you who will be attending the Society of Wetland Scientists (SWS) Annual Conference in Puerto Rico in June, ASWM will be facilitating a day-long symposium on communicating science as well. It’s an important topic that demands our attention — so For Peat’s Sake, I hope you’ll take the next step to improve your communications skills.

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bos2California Legislators Gird up Their Laws

By Molly Peterson and Judith Lewis Mernit – Laws & Nature – February 23, 2017 Video
Democratic lawmakers in California have announced their intention to guard against federal interference in the state’s environmental and worker protection laws. On air quality, water, endangered species, and worker safety, they’ve introduced three bills that would empower state agencies to enforce the standards in place now. The laws are necessary, said De León at a press conference this morning, because “the Trump administration has launched an attack on science,” the likes of which “we have never witnessed before.” For full full story and to view video, click here.

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wppLessons from Oroville: Resilience for Scarcity and Abundance

By James Brasuell – Planetizen – February 15, 2017 – Video
Is anyone feeling resilient enough to talk about resilience? To add to the overwhelming evidence that 2017 has not been a good year for the resilience cause, those of us who live and work in California got a stark reminder of vulnerability this week, when crisis came in the form of stormwater at Lake Oroville in Northern California. For full blog post and to view video, click here.

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by Brenda Zollitsch, Policy Analyst, ASWM

Background: The Association of State Wetland Managers is preparing to release a new 12-module online training series on hydric soils this spring.  Guided by a national project workgroup, these web-based training modules are ASWM’s first foray into providing online training with an evaluation component.  These online hydric soils modules, their associated quizzes and the ability to receive certificates of completion allow for participation in an ASWM training soiltest022317activity that is not a real-time live event.  This project enables wetland practitioners who participate in ASWM’s online training series to explore the possibilities provided by anytime, anywhere web-based learning.

This blog entry provides a list of questions and our answers about ASWM’s new online training offerings.  We welcome you to send us any other questions you may have as well.

Question: Why did ASWM Develop Online Training Modules?

Answer: Over the last two years, ASWM conducted several needs assessment activities, which each identified both the need for foundation-building training for wetland field practitioners to build expertise in hydric soils and the need for more anytime/anywhere access to training. Recent studies by ASWM have shown many states have reduced budgets for the wetland programs. There are also widespread changes in staff due to retirements, job changes and reorganization. The result has been a basicsoilwetland workforce in need of new foundation-building training that can be accessed on an as-needed basis for staff. It is beneficial to get field staff the training that they need directly from experts. Specific to hydric soils, wetland professionals were requesting training to help them understand how hydric soils are formed and how to recognize and interpret the information hydric soils provide when observed in the field.

To meet this need, ASWM developed the online hydric soils training. Modules can also be used as refresher courses for those practitioners who have not had soils training in recent years or need to brush up on a specific area of knowledge. The specific target audience for the online training series is state and tribal wetland field staff (plus state/tribal wetland managers, local municipal officials, conservation commissions, and boards of health. The series will also be useful for others.

Question: How Did ASWM Develop its Online Training Modules?

soiltextureAnswer: ASWM’s series of 12 online hydric soils training modules were carefully crafted over the last six months. The presentations originate from a highly-successful webinar series ASWM held from July through October 2016. These webinars were designed to provide not only live webinar-based training, but to be post-processed into online modules. Careful attention was given to the development of both the webinars and the future modules that would come from the recordings during the planning, development and implementation of the webinar content. The presentations were recorded during the live webinar presentations and post-processed into individual segmented recordings (Each webinar had 3 presentations; which have now been developed into 12 online modules).

Following the live webinar presentations, ASWM staff post-processed the recordings and posted individual modules on an online storage site for video content called Vimeo. The links to the presentation content will be added to web-based information on the ASWM online training webpage on the website, providing the full information and links to complete the modules.

Question: How did ASWM Select the Trainers for the Online Modules?

Answer: ASWM worked with a national workgroup of wetland professionals to develop the overall project to increase access to high quality wetland training. Working with this workgroup and ASWM’s larger network of contacts, ASWM was able to develop a training team of leading experts in hydric soils. These trainers were approached to participate in the project. We would like to thank the project’s team of trainers for the generous donation of their time and expertise to develop and deliver this series of trainings. It has been ASWM’s utmost privilege to work with the following team of hydric soils expert trainers on this project:

  • Dr. Lee Daniels, Virginia Tech
  • Annie Rossi, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
  • Lenore Vasilas, USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service
  • Bruce Vasilas, University of Delaware
  • Richard Weber, USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service
  • John Galbraith, Virginia Tech

Question: What Does Each Online Training Module Include?

Answer: Each individual module consists of:

  • A description of the module contents
  • The target audience for the module
  • Specific learning objectives for the module
  • A brief biography of the module presenter
  • A link to the training presentation (hosted on ASWM’s Vimeo video storage site),
  • Information about how to access the quiz and the quiz itself (accessed through ClassMarker web-based quiz tool) and
  • Information about how to obtain a certificate of completion (also accessed through ClassMarker).

Question: Why Offer a Module Quiz?

Answer: The module quizzes serve two purposes:

learning0223171) To allow participants to assess whether or not they learned from the training presentations
2) To allow ASWM to provide Certificates of Completion for participation in a non-live training activity. By demonstrating learning from the modules AND certifying that they viewed the recorded presentation, participants are able to secure certificates they can send to accrediting institutions for continuing education units.

Question: What do the Quizzes Cover?

Answer: The module quizzes focus on basic key take-away points from each presentation. The quiz consists of five questions that are directly taken from the presentation content. Participants are provided the opportunity to take the quiz over if they do not pass it with a score of 50% or higher.

Question: How did ASWM Fund the Development of the Online Modules?

Answer: ASWM was able to secure an EPA Wetland Program Development Grant to develop and deliver high quality wetland training to on-the-ground wetland professionals. The online training series was developed as part of this project.

Question: How much does it Cost to Take an Online Training Module?

Answer: Access to all the module presentations is free. Access to each individual module quiz is also free for ASWM members and comes with a free downloadable Certificate of Completion. Non-members must pay a nominal $10 processing fee to access the quiz and receive their associated certificate. Participants can then submit to their accrediting organization of choice themselves to assist in their securing of continuing education credits and their associated professional development.

Question: How Does the ClassMarker-based Quiz and Certificate of Completion System Work?

certificate022317Answer: Once participants click on the quiz link from the module webpage, they will be prompted to develop a username and password in ClassMarker. Once this has been entered, the ClassMarker tool will take them to the quiz page. They will be prompted again to provide their name and email address, which will be used to process the certificates. They will then be brought to the module quiz questions. There are five questions, all multiple choice.

To receive a certificate, participants must BOTH: a) certify that they completed viewing of the video presentation by clicking yes on the certification box AND b) complete all 5 quiz questions with a score of 50% or more correct. Answering “no” for the certification question will result in no certificate being issued. They will be provided three attempts to take the quiz for the module. If at the end of the third attempt, the participant has not been able to achieve a score of 50% or higher, they will not be eligible to receive a certificate.

Participants will be prompted to download their Certificate of Participation from ClassMarker after completing the quiz. Once they download their certificate, they can then submit the certificate to the accrediting organization of their choice to potentially receive continuing education units/credits.

Question: When will the modules be available to wetland professionals?

Answer: The modules are currently being beta-tested by the workgroup and other volunteers currently and they offer promise, especially for those wetland professionals who have a difficult time getting to on-the-ground training sites due to challenges traveling or low budgets. ASWM’s online training offerings are web-based and do not require participants to download any software to their computers, increasing accessibility. When they are available, ASWM will post them on the website and will send promotional materials out through all ASWM’s normal promotional channels.

If you have any additional questions, please send them to Brenda Zollitsch, ASWM Policy Analyst at or call (207) 892-3399.

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bos2Bringing Back Diversity in Eastern Forests for Landowners, Wildlife

By Justin Fritscher – USDA Blog – December 29, 2016
What do biologists look for in a healthy forest? A diversity in the ages and composition of trees and occasional breaks in canopy to allow sunlight to reach understory plants. Healthy forests, just like healthy human populations, are sustained by a diversity of ages. Each group has a role to play in maintaining the whole community over the long term. But healthy, diverse forests are on the decline across the eastern United States. A lack of natural and human-induced disturbances because of fire suppression and certain timber harvest methods have led the forested landscape to become largely homogenous. For full blog post, click here.

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wppRestoring America’s Wetland Forest Legacy

By Sam Davis – Union of Concerned Scientists Blog – February 7, 2017
Like many white, middle-class, suburban kids, I grew up with one foot in the forest. To me, that small woodlot, a green buffer along a half-polluted tributary, was a paradise unmatched by any other forest in the world. Unfortunately, like many other tracts of land across the United States, my childhood forest is gone—cleared for a housing development.  Even small forests across the United States work to provide “ecosystem services”—non-monetary benefits like clean water, clean air, carbon sequestration, hunting, fishing, and yes—recreation for children. Ecosystem services may sound like “lip service” to the natural world, but it’s not.  For full blog post, click here.

Posted in conservation, ecosystem services, wetland | Tagged , | Leave a comment

cwlogoBy Jeanne Christie, Executive Director, ASWM

This past week I’ve joined many others watching the news unfolding about Oroville dam and its eroding spillway.  The videos of 100,000 cubic feet per second churning over the spillway and down the river were impressive and terrifying to watch, particularly when the 180,000 or so residents received evacuation orders last Sunday.

bigpictureSince then, reservoir levels have been lowered, the amount of water being released has been reduced and residents have been told that it is safe to return home.

The integrity of the dam is not in question, but the spillway and emergency spillways were and are the source of concern.  The cost of repairing the spillways is in the range of $100-200 million. And this is only one of 2,000 deficient high hazard dams nationally according to the Association of State Dam Safety Officials. An article on Water Deeply provides an insightful analysis of the costs to maintain and replace water infrastructure—and estimated $187 billion to meet current needs for drinking water, wastewater, waterways, ports, and levee repairs nationwide.  When the intensified weather events that continue to occur are taken into account, the costs are likely to go even higher. So it is not surprising that the California State Water Resources Control Board released a draft resolution for a comprehensive response to climate change.

snowroadHere on the other side of the country, the staff at the Association of State Wetland Managers along with many other citizens of Maine and New Hampshire encountered a different set of challenges over the past week. Over the past nine days five winter storms have blown through the region.

The snow is literally waist-deep and everyone is worn down from getting up every other day to begin plowing, blowing, shoveling and raking snow–again.  Town budgets will be strained covering these costs. Again maintenance and upkeep of infrastructure is very expensive.  Variable weather, adds significantly to the difficulty of planning as costs become more variable in response to the increasing variability in weather.

Over time ASWM has frequently encouraged exploration and adoption of ‘natural infrastructure’ as a way to reduce the infrastructure costs over time.  Natural infrastructure provides the opportunity to expand the tools available to meet water infrastructure needs, particularly in response to an increasingly variable climate.  Natural infrastructure can serve as a buffer against weather extremes and the associated costs.

While I was following the news about Oroville Dam I remembered a meeting I had at the Forest Service a couple years ago. I had asked to meet with someone about beaver reintroduction on Forest Service lands and was surprised when I arrived to find a half dozen people in a room as well as an equal number on the phone.  I learned that concerns about water supply on the front range of Colorado was leading to an increasing interest in establishing reservoirs on Forest Service lands. But putting reservoirs in mountainous places is potentially a poor decision when taking into consideration variable weather. The large forest fires that have occurred in recent years remove trees and vegetation leading to erosion of whole hillsides–a lot of erosion. A reservoir/dam located in an area subject to forest fires would receive that sedimentation and that could significantly reduce the storage capacity of the reservoir.  Reservoirs are expensive.  The people I talked to were very interested in beaver reintroduction as an alternative approach because beaver dams are small impoundments that store water in the pool behind the dam and also in the groundwater next to the dam.  Reintroducing beaver (and this would have to be a large number of beaver over time) on Forest Service lands could be an alternative strategy for storing water in the Front Range. The expense is likely to be significantly lower and beaver have the ability to self-perpetuate.  This is both a windham0217171good and bad thing since beaver are often managed as a nuisance species when they build dams across road culverts and other areas. Beaver reintroduction is a strategy that would require careful planning and thought.

There are opportunities to adapt using the natural world around us and benefiting humans and the environment.

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bos2New Court Decision on Water Transfers Reinstates EPA’s Existing Rule

Association of State Drinking Water Administrators (ASDWA) – February 3, 2017
A recent court decision provides a new milestone in an ongoing legal dispute over whether water transfers, such as a water system might use to move raw water between reservoirs, should require a NPDES permit.  These water transfers situations have long been controversial, especially when the water quality differs between the source and the receiving water body. For full blog post, click here.

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wppRestoration Spotlight: A forest’s hopes rest on golden wings

By Will Parson – Chesapeake Bay News – February 7, 2017 – Video
When Mike and Laura Jackson wanted to restore wildlife habitat on their slice of a forested Pennsylvania mountainside, they did something you might not expect. The husband and wife, who live on 114 acres in Bedford County, started cutting down trees. The Jacksons were motivated to drastic action in part by a small gray bird with flashes of yellow on its head and wings. “We’ve always been birders, so we keep track of what we see,” Laura said, while she and Mike followed the trails that wind through their land. “And we’ve had golden-winged warblers on our property—but the last one we saw or heard was in 2009.” For full blog post and to view video, click here.

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For Peats Sake LogoBy Marla J. Stelk, Policy Analyst, ASWM

On Monday, February 6th, a tanker truck carrying home heating oil rolled over on the interstate highway running through Portland, Maine, spilling oil along the roadway and into the Fore River. Since that is right in my backyard, I was obviously very concerned about the potential short and long term impacts to the river as well as to the Casco Bay Estuary. It seems we hear similar stories more and more often about similar accidents across the country.  And with a greater federal emphasis on domestic energy production, I expect we’ll be hearing stories like this much more frequently.  However, spills associated with fossil fuel extraction, production and transport are typically much larger in volume than a local heating fuel truck spill. Transporting large amounts of fuel by truck or by train can be very risky and it is an argument that many advocates for pipelines use to support more construction.

transalaska021017But underground pipelines come with their own long list of risks as well – indeed there really is no perfect solution for safely transporting our energy supplies.  Although the thought of increasing domestic energy production worries me because it will most definitely be accompanied by an increase in environmental impacts (among others), I have to admit part of me thinks it is the best way to open people’s eyes to the risks associated with fossil fuel production and transport. When production is overseas, we often don’t hear about all the impacts to local communities. Now, I expect, we will experience first-hand the risks that accompany these activities more often.

So how do we protect ourselves from the risks associated with domestic energy production (including renewable energy)? The same way we have protected our nation’s environmental, public and economic health for decades – through regulations and permits that require businesses engaged in such activities to follow certain rules and thoroughly weigh the associated risks and benefits in a transparent and rational manner. Today’s environmental regulations were developed in response to identified needs for greater oversight and accountability. It has been a constant challenge to balance the sometimes competing needs for economic, environmental and public health, but it is one that many voices have debated over the years and as a result, we have developed a fairly decent level of compromise on many fronts.

penobscottriver021017One doesn’t have to look too far back to remember what it was like before we had some of our most important federal environmental regulations in place, such as the Clean Water Act and the Clean Air Act. In Maine, we had a highly polluted Penobscot River – it was not a river that you wanted to wade in or develop a restaurant near. According to the Penobscot River Restoration Trust’s website, “Water quality in the Penobscot River has greatly improved during the last 30 years due to the reduction in industrial pollution required by the Clean Water Act. Communities across Maine already have turned toward these cleaner waters, revitalizing their riverfronts. The return of the Penobscot sea-run fishery and free-flowing river sections will provide opportunities to realize the river’s full potential, including revival of cultural and social fishing traditions.” In Maine, we have seen first-hand how a healthy environment can foster a healthy economy and healthy communities – it does not need to be an either/or situation.

riverfire021017I grew up in Ohio. In my “buckeye state” we all learned about the Cuyahoga River fire(s) in history class. On the website for Ohio History Central, you’ll find this: “Cleveland, OH was once known as a major industrial center within the United States.  As the 1960s came to an end, so did the country’s reliance on industrialized manufacturing.  However, Cleveland continued production which when paired with a lack in sewer and waste disposal regulation, maintained the littering of the Cuyahoga River…..The Cuyahoga River was once one of the most polluted rivers in the United States as represented by the multitude of times it has caught fire, a recorded number of thirteen starting in 1868.” The final fire in 1969 was what inspired the US Congress to pass the National Environmental Protection Act, which led to the creation of the US Environmental Protection Agency in 1970, and subsequently the Clean Water Act in 1972. “The river is now home to about sixty different species of fish, there has not been another river fire since 1969, and yearly new waste management programs develop to ensure the sanitation of Cleveland’s waterways.”

I fear, however, that we have somehow lost our memory of what once was and may not appreciate how much better things are now. Without this historical perspective we may fail to recognize how good we have it now compared to the environment that our parents and/or grandparents grew up in. Changes to our most important federal environmental regulations (and this is not to say that there is never room for improvement, just that we shouldn’t throw the baby out with the bathwater) should be fully vetted and pros and cons carefully weighted before action is taken. Any changes need to be evaluated by both federal and state agencies in order to determine the right mix of federal versus state authorities and responsibilities. These regulations were developed during a time when political parties on both sides of the aisle recognized that the health of our economy and the health of our communities were integrally tied to the health of our environment. This bipartisan partnership needs to continue – we cannot afford to lose ground on our achievements over the last 47 years to partisanship and/or political ideology. I for one will continue to do all I can to hold the line on our achievements, and For Peat’s Sake, I hope you will too.

Posted in Clean Water Act, economic growth, environmental law, jurisdiction, water policy, wetland regulations | Tagged , | Leave a comment
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